Sometimes I meet people who say they do not come to church, but they believe in God. They often say that they worship God when out walking or looking at God’s creation. That is I suppose possible, but are they missing something by not coming to church? Or put it the other way round, could our worship in church be missing something by not being outdoors? Put together with the previous questions, this all adds up to, what is real worship?
Firstly, what do we mean by worship? Worship is about making connection with God, when we can maybe hear from Him (by way of guidance, or encouragement or comfort), and when we can be fed by Him, and so strengthened to serve Him in our lives. When Jesus was talking to the woman at the well about real worship, he said ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4.24). Jesus is saying, there is a proper way to worship God, and a way that is not valid worship. So, what is the difference?
Real worship is meeting with God in His entirety. To put this in another way, false worship reduces God to just certain aspects, and ignores other aspects of God. So, somebody who worships God in the birds in their garden miss out on a major feature of God: who became a human being, who suffered and died on the cross, and so who knows and understands about human suffering and all the pain and destruction we can experience, for example. Somebody who worships God while out walking the God might not experience God’s forgiveness in Christ, and so meet with Him at the deepest and most personal level.
Also, real worship is when we put the whole of ourselves into God’s presence. We do not hold back any part of ourselves, any aspect of our lives. False worship happens if people put on a veneer when they worship. We do not leave our problems outside the church – we bring them in with us, and they form part of the way in which we worship. We do not have to have a permanent fixed grin on our faces to worship God in truth – we could be in tears, if that is how we are feeling on that day.
God is spirit, Jesus said, and so we are to worship in spirit. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our worship, to lead us in all we think and say and do in worship. Worship is not like following a recipe out of a book. If you bake a cake, and you follow a recipe, chances are if everything has been done as prescribed in the recipe, the cake will come out fine. Worship is not like that. Whatever is said, or sung, or done, in a worship service – if the Holy Spirit is not present, then the worship will not be authentic. Our heart and soul need to be in it, and God’s Holy Spirit needs to be in it too.
So, there are some ways in which true worship could occasionally happen in our day-to-day lives, when walking the dog, or when doing the washing up. But, we all need to recharge our batteries, we all need to be challenged by God’s Word of Truth. We all need to have God nudging us out of our comfort zones, and meeting with us afresh. I would say that someone who does not come regularly to a church for worship does not know authentic worship in spirit and in truth. I pray that all our worship at Holy Trinity is in spirit and in truth, and welcomes all-comers to meet with God in a meaningful way, to challenge and transform our lives.
Rest for the weary
As the schools have a break until September, many people’s minds turn to holidays. This is a timely moment to consider rest and what Jesus says about it. Jesus said, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11.28).
‘Come to me….and I will give you rest.’ I think we can be in danger of skipping past those words without taking in the full enormity of what he is saying there. Come to me, he says. Rest in my everlasting arms of love. We have in-built in us a deep desire to rebel. Since Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden of Eden, humankind has had a very deeply inbuilt independent streak, that wants to hide from God, that wants to do things without God’s input. But Jesus says, Come to me.
Rest is one of those things that can be hard to achieve. We can stop what we were doing, and sit still, and our mind races. It is no good thinking ‘Stop thinking’ – that is just counterproductive. To truly rest, to truly cease everything and relax totally can be one of the hardest things to do. One of the features of being stressed out, being over-tired, is that we feel as though we cannot stop, we must not stop. There are more and more pressures on us, we live busier and busier lives, so many pressures, that if we even slowed down for a moment it seems like they would mount further.
But if we are burdened, if we are weary, the first thing we are to do, Jesus says, is admit it. And turn to Him. ‘Come to me in prayer’, he says. ‘Come to me by turning your mind towards me – give me time’. ‘Turn to me’, Jesus says. If we place ourselves in His hands, if we allow ourselves to slow down enough to receive from Him, Jesus promises, ‘I will give you rest.’ True rest is a gift. True rest is so much more than just sitting still. True rest is of body and mind and spirit.
God who is the source of all peace, true Shalom, peace that goes into every corner of our lives, will give us the type of rest nothing else ever can. And if we receive that deepest of healing rest from Jesus, then the Lord will strengthen us from within to face whatever lies ahead. May we learn increasingly to come to him for rest and for renewal this summer, and beyond.
Fencing has been going up opposite the Parade, and storage containers have appeared. There’ll be a lot more fencing going up, and soon the builders will hopefully start in earnest. The Parade redevelopment is at long last beginning to happen. The Parade – and much of the land opposite the church and hall – is going to be redeveloped. It will transform the look of the place.
We know from Jesus’ teaching that anything which is built is only worth it if its foundations are firmly rooted in what matters most in life, in God. And any transformation in Blacon that this parade redevelopment might mark the beginning of, will I believe only be lasting if God is at the heart of it. I believe that we here at Holy Trinity can have a central role in making sure that happens. We can be channels for God to bring a redevelopment, a transformation – a spiritual transformation to Blacon.
We are here to bring a message to the world which is about transformation that does not cost money, and is not measurable by the size of building projects. It is a message of the enormity of God’s love for the world. His love is so great that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ to die for us, so that we can be let off from the penalty due to us for our sins. Knowing his love and forgiveness in our lives brings a great transformation within our lives. And that is the transformation we want to bring to others.
On 12th June, we hosted an important meeting in church, which was attended by a wide range of people from other churches in Blacon, and various community groups. This was the ‘Good Childhood Conversation’, where we discussed what over 800 children and young people of Blacon had said about this area, and what they value.
One of the strongest messages that came out, was how highly they value love and relationships – within family, with friends. Those are the centre of the Christian message! It has been said that Christianity is all about relationships. It is very important that we (together with the other churches) ensure the wider community, and young people especially, hear loud and clear from us that we too value what they do. Several interesting ideas and issues were discussed at the Good Childhood Conversation in June, and the conversation will be continuing, hopefully producing some real tangible results (I will keep you informed as things develop).
As the built environment around the church is transformed, my prayer (and I hope your prayer) is that we can sow seeds of transformation in people’s lives and relationships, both young and old. For this is God’s mission in Blacon, and he wants us to take part.
Work in progress
We aim to be a thriving, welcoming,
caring Christian community,
inclusive of all.
Last month’s magazine summarised the Growth Action Plan that our PCC agreed on, following discussions after our Awayday, and it included the vision statement as above, describing what we aim to be, here at Holy Trinity Church.
We are a community of Christians. That means we proclaim Jesus as Lord of our lives, and we acknowledge his saving power through the cross and resurrection. These are profound mysteries, which we revisit regularly, and each time we look at them afresh, and our relationship with God and knowledge of His saving power at work within our lives can deepen. It is something we spend a lifetime learning more and more of.
We aim to be a community which is inclusive of all. . Which means that whatever somebody’s background, whatever somebody’s life circumstances, whatever someone’s shape, size, colour, personality, gender, sexuality, or anything else – everyone is welcome to be included here at Holy Trinity. That means we aim to accept everyone for who they are, and we do not have preconceptions about the kind of person who can be ‘one of us’.
We are a community of Christians. As a community, we are a group of people of all different types and all different backgrounds, and we are there for each other. God is the template for a perfect community: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in relationship and perfect unity with each other. We recognise that we are a group of fallen people, so our relationships do not always follow a smooth path, but our aim is to work towards the kind of unity and cooperation there is within the Godhead.
We want to be caring – caring for one another within our church community, and caring for those in need within the wider community in Blacon. This means that where we see needs, we want to help – we are not always able to do all that is needed (there are so many needs) – but many of us are involved in all kinds of different ways in showing God’s love and care through our contacts with other organisations, as well as at Holy Trinity. Again, this is not something we always get right, and actually on of our GAP goals is to develop a way to improve how we care for one another.
We want to be welcoming – which includes being friendly to those who visit our services, but is also so much more than that. In cludes ensuring there are as few things as possible which hinder people being able to come and join us. It includes includes caring for people, and their needs, whether they are a stranger through our doors, or whether we have known them for considerably longer than that.
We want to be thriving – which means growing in the numbers attending our church, and also each one of us growing in our faith. That sort of growth needs the work of the Holy Spirit among us, to happen. Therefore, we need to pray for such growth – pray asking God to provide the growth, but also to pray listening to what God may be saying to us about how he wants us to facilitate it.
In summary, all the parts of our vision statement represent ‘work in progress’. This church is God’s work in progress, just like each one of us are individually God’s work in progress. We do well to pray asking for his guidance and his empowering for his work to be brought to completion within all of us, through Christ our Lord.
A good welcome
We all of us have memories of times when we went somewhere for the very first time: whether it is the first day in school, or the first visit to a friend’s house, or the first time we walked into a church. The anxiety about going somewhere unknown is made so much less if we receive a good welcome. That is one of the reasons it is important for us as a church to ensure we provide a good welcome for people who visit us for worship. Every moment from the first approach to the front door, to what happens during the service, to the way the person is greeted over coffee in the hall afterwards, adds up to the welcome. And while we have sidespeople at every service who are key in the welcome we give, that is something all of us as members of the church are responsible for (in the same way that the whole family are involved in welcoming a visitor to our homes).
So a good welcome is important to calm people’s anxieties, and make the experience of our church something they would want to come back for again. Another reason welcoming is important for us, is because of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said that welcoming people can be the equivalent of welcoming him. The way we attend to the other person’s needs, the way we show them genuine warmth and concern, that is to be the way we would want to be attended to, that is to be the way we would treat Jesus himself. And if that person is a member of Christ’s body, it is in effect Christ himself we are welcoming.
When Jesus taught his followers about how God sorts people into those who will be given a place in God’s kingdom on judgement day, and those who do not, he used these familiar words (Matthew 25.34-40) to describe how God will greet those he blesses:
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Let us all ensure we welcome even those who are ‘the least’ in God’s family – into the church and into our homes. For that is how God welcomes each of us.
Beginning the New Year in the right way
What matters most in life? As we begin a New Year and people turn their minds to New Year Resolutions, it is important to all of us to get our priorities right.
Most people think that the important aspect of life, the way to ensure a place in heaven after we die, is by doing a lot of good things. It is very tempting to think that the more good things we do in our lives (giving to charity; visiting or helping those in need; working in some way for the benefit of the Church) the more likely we are to be closer to heaven. It’s the ‘brownie point’ approach to faith. Earn enough points and you get a reward. That’s the way so many things happen in this world, and yet that is a long way from the truth of God’s kingdom values, and they must not be the top priority of our Church life.
We will never earn ourselves a place in heaven through doing good works. There is only one way to heaven, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we submit our lives to Christ as our Saviour and Lord, if we come to him in utter dependence, experience the love he has for us, and ask for his Holy Spirit to fill us afresh – then he will give us the Spirit, and will help us to know more of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and that enables us to grow up in our faith.
If we truly experience that love of Christ, it provides all of life with a new meaning and purpose. That affects not only our relationship with God, but our every thought and word and action and relationship with others. The love of God in Christ then turns the way we view the whole world upside down, and it puts everything else in perspective. That then shows us what is really important about life.
What is really important, is knowing how great the love God has for us, and how great that love is shown through his Son Jesus Christ dying on the cross for us. As we begin this New Year may each of us resolve to grow increasingly close to God, that we may know him, and know his resurrection power at work within our lives. Let us resolve to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. That is of far greater – and more lasting – value than any diet plan or exercise regime.
Christ the one true light
As the nights draw in, we find we need to turn our lights on earlier and earlier in the day. These are, of course, generally electric. There was a time when it would have been gaslight – and in earlier times still, candles. It is interesting how candles have in recent years become fashionable again, and many people have them (alongside their electric lighting) in their homes. The church was in this case ahead of the trends – we have been using candles for centuries!
Indeed, the use of the language of light and dark in the bible, the imagery of Christ as light of the world, as a light shining in the darkness of this world of sin, leant itself to lights being a prominent part of liturgy from the very earliest forms of Christian worship. There is an ancient document dating from early in the third century, which refers to the use of a lamp (presumably an oil lamp) at an evening service. Lights were used to assist with readings in worship is recorded about a century later. It was also as early as this, in the fourth century that there is an early record of a candle being given to a candidate at their baptism (representing Jesus the light of the world who is come into their life). This is a practice we continue to this day.
There is a record in the fourth century also of candles being used to illumine the gospel for its reading during a Eucharist – and also to represent the presence of Christ in the written word. The Paschal candle was used for this at first, and in later centuries, during the Middle Ages that acolytes carrying more candles became the practice. At one point there were as many as seven acolytes each carrying candles – but by the late Middle Ages that reduced to two, the number we are now used to. It was not until quite late, around the eleventh century, that candles were placed on the altar – usually just two, but as altars became larger, so there became space for more candles!
We use candles in many other ways in churches (for example for individual prayer, or on an Advent wreath, or to signal the presence of the reserved sacrament) – but what interests me is how prevalent the interest in the flickering light of the burning wick can be. It would simply not be the same if we had an electric switch to turn on a bulb on the votive stand.
Every flame is somehow unique. And there is something quite transient about a burning candle, once that wax and that wick have burned it cannot return. We know how compelling any flames can become – see how people become mesmerised as they watch the flames of a bonfire.
I love to use the same sense of wonder to assist my prayer. It is easy to do. Light a candle a room, and just watch it. As you do so, as it flickers and dances in its random way, remember this represents Christ the light of the world shining in this room, shining in your life. It is a good moment to bring before Christ people or issues that concern you – or simply to meditate on Christ’s presence in your life. For Christ is Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. As the flame dances about unpredictably, be reminded how God is at work in your life, maybe in unexpected ways – but always to bring in His Light and His Truth to this dark and unpredictable world.
Hearing and Listening
My children used to enjoy playing the blinking game. This involves literally a ‘head to head’ battle. On the word ‘go’ the two competitors start staring at each other. The first person to blink has lost. Not as physical as an arm wrestling contest, but from my experience just as eagerly fought. Playing the game (and I tended to regularly end up losing), showed how it is quite possible to look even very intently at someone’s face, indeed making eye contact with them, and not truly communicate with them. In the same way, it is quite possible to hold a conversation with someone where one or both people involved are not truly listening to the other.
I am sure we have all had times when what we have said has not been properly heard, or has been misheard, or even if the words have been heard, the real meaning behind it has been misunderstood by the person we are talking to. This can be very frustrating to experience, and in my role as Rector, I am very aware how I need to listen carefully to others, and also to take care that what I say is not misheard. To truly listen to another person – and to fully take on board what that other person has said, and then for the same to happen in the other direction also, is actually not common. To be able to fully listen to another person is a skill which many people do not have in-built, and which most of us even if we do have it, need to work at developing.
We have to work hard at truly listening to others. And yet, we have a God who always listens to us wholly and fully and with complete understanding. We do not ever need to worry that God has misheard us, or not heard us, or misunderstood what we mean. God knows the thoughts of our hearts. He even knows what we are going to think before we think it! He understands perfectly what we mean. He understands a great deal better what is on our hearts than we do.
God wants to be in a true dialogue with us. As well as patiently and completely listening to us, He wants to communicate with us. He wants to talk to us, and He wants us to listen to Him, too. When we pray, he wants us to listen to him as much as we talk to him. That thought challenges me. Because I wonder, do I leave enough space in my prayers for God to be heard? If we are to look at the ‘traffic’ in our prayer life, does it look rather one-way? If our prayers are simply a series of ‘shopping lists’ – lists of things we want God to sort out – given in rapid succession, what space is there for us to hear God’s response?
And the same could be said about our relationship with God in worship. We need to truly connect with God in worship, not distracted by other things, but giving him all our attention, in the same way that he is totally attentive to us. It is so easy when similar words are said week by week, and similar things are done week by week, for our worship to occasionally become a little ‘routine’, and we can be tempted to ‘go through the motions’ rather than really connecting with the Lord of heaven and earth, whom we are there to worship.
So, let us regularly spend time in stillness, in our prayers giving space to maybe hear what God has to say to us. And in our worship, pausing to allow our hearts and minds to connect meaningfully with our Lord. May all our worship be in Spirit and in Truth, to His praise and glory. Amen.
Annual Report April 2013
Our vision as a parish is that ‘We aim to be a thriving, welcoming, caring Christian Community inclusive of all’. Thriving, welcoming, caring, inclusive – and above all, Christian. And we cannot call ourselves a Christian Community without God at the centre of what we are about, of who we are and what we do. The published annual report is a wonderful outline of some of what God is doing through us here at Holy Trinity. If we seek to do these things in our own strength, it is not going to get us anywhere. We seek for God to strengthen and enable and empower us to do all this, and more. As a Christian Community we know the power of God’s love to work in our lives, and we exist to help others who do not yet know it, to come to know God’s love for them.
Let’s get our heads around that – the number of people in Blacon who do not yet know God’s love for them. The population of Blacon is around 15,000. The number who identify themselves as belonging to us here at Holy Trinity is just slightly over 100, which is a tiny proportion of the whole.
Often on a Sunday, our biggest congregation is not at 10am, but at midday – for the Baptism service. We conduct a large number of Baptisms and Funerals in church (what we call ‘occasional offices’). I estimate that if you add together the congregations at those services, roughly 3,000 people who are not regular church members came into Holy Trinity church in 2012. That is not including the number of children and parents and grandparents from the Arches School who are now coming into our church for a service every term. That represents a much bigger portion of Blacon’s population, though still a minority. I say this so that we can have a sense of proportion about our mission as a church, and what is most important in what we do.
The most important work we do as a Church – our mission – is for others – those who are not our regular members – rather than for ourselves. I have quoted it before, and I will keep quoting it, because it is so important – a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said the church is the only organisation which exists for the benefit of its non-members. So, here at Holy Trinity Church, we exist for the benefit of the approx 15,000 people who live in Blacon. All of us have contacts outside Holy Trinity with a portion of this lot (unchurched Blacon) – it is the role of all of us to be like ambassadors for God – showing others who do not know God’s love for them, how great his love is.
So my prayer for us as a church – whatever we do, whatever we plan and decide – is that we become effective ambassadors for God, at all times having a mind to show others what his love at work means in our lives.
When we look back at our upbringing, the influence of the adults who brought us up can look more important than we recognised at the time. And as we watch children around us, we can notice the ways in which their parents and guardians have a large impact on all kinds of ways the child behaves (for good or ill). The kind of parenting we receive has a very lasting effect on our lives, maybe on the way relate to people for the whole of our lives.
And as we look closely at the ways we were brought up, and the ways families around us are bringing up children, we often will notice difficulties. Problems parents have in their lives has a knock-on effect on their children. It can be heart-breaking to watch a child being taught bad habits by the adults around them. Worse still is when we see a child suffering because they are being neglected, or even abused by adults they trust.
The parenting humans give is never perfect. But we have a perfect parent – our Father in heaven. He loves us perfectly. He knows exactly what we need for the best. God knows what we need for the best, because he made us. We are his creation. And we are told that if we follow Jesus as our Lord, we become God’s adopted children. God is our perfect parent, and I know people who have had very flawed human parents, but have found the perfect parenting from God a great comfort, and a good replacement for the human parenting that had been lacking.
And we are told that if we follow Jesus as our Lord, we become God’s adopted children. Indeed, belonging to the church family can be a good substitute family for those whose biological family is not supportive for whatever reason.
God is a perfect parent, who never leaves us, never dies, never fails, always loves perfectly and totally, and never lets us down. However, we all need human parenting. Those of us who are Christians can regard ourselves as vehicles of God’s love, love with skin on if you like, for our children. God knows and loves our children even before we do, but he chooses to loan them to us to bring up on his behalf. They are not our possession, but we are entrusted with their day-to-day care.
It is a sad reflection on our society that there are children whose families do not care for them adequately or safely, through neglect or abuse or both, and so they need fostering or adoption. There are many hundreds of children awaiting fostering and adoption today. There is a shortage in this area (as around the country) of people willing to foster or adopt. This is a real, pressing current need which I believe requires our Christian response.
Would you feel able to transform a child’s life by considering fostering or adoption?
There is a shortage of Foster Carers and Adoptive families to meet the needs of our most vulnerable children. We are looking to recruit more Foster Carers and Adoptive families in the Blacon area.
A carer provides a home for children and young people who are unable, for different reasons, to live with their family. Foster Carers help reduce the pressure on families, allowing time for them to sort out their difficulties so that their children can return home.
There will be occasions when a child or young person is unable to return to their own family. If this happens they may be adopted or they may live with long term foster carers. Adoption is a way of giving a child a new and permanent family because they cannot be brought up by their parents. By adopting you can give a child a loving, stable and permanent home.
People foster and adopt children for a variety of reasons, but importantly it’s because they want to make a difference to a child’s life. We believe every child deserves a stable and happy home life and a childhood they will remember with a smile.
To achieve this we need more Foster Carers and Adoptive families.
See www.fosteringwestcheshire.co.uk for more information.
Whatever our response personally, let us all pray for the children of Blacon, and especially for the protection of those who need to find new homes to foster or adopt them.
Generosity God’s way
As Advent begins, and our preparations for Christmas go into full swing, it is traditional for some church people to moan about the consumerism of the season, and how the real meaning has been lost in all the baubles, glitz and glitter. There certainly is a danger that we can be so taken up with buying Christmas presents, and preparing for the Big Day, that we forget what it is really all about. The bright lights and wrapping paper can distract from the birth of the Son of God. But I hope you will not hear me moaning.
Because I find it a tremendous blessing that people who do not have anything to do with church, who do not usually give Jesus a passing thought, that they want to be celebrating this great Christian festival. And the birth of Christ is surely something to celebrate. This is surely worth going over-the-top about. Those families who do not realise that Christmas is anything to do with Jesus need a bit of educating, of course, but I will not want to prevent them celebrating the season in the meantime.
One of the problems with the over-the-top approach to Christmas, is the pressure some families find themselves in. They feel under pressure to buy certain things for presents, or certain expensive foods, and so get into severe debt in order to ‘do’ Christmas in the way they think they ought to. That is certainly wrong, and we need to do all in our power to encourage people to enjoy a simple Christmas – and certainly an affordable one.
Giving presents at Christmas is however a wonderful way to celebrate the best gift of all, God’s gift of his only Son Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Giving a present to somebody else is a small representation of God’s generosity to us.
Generous giving means not expecting anything in return. Generous giving means not counting the cost of what we give. Generous giving is all about considering the needs of the other person (and in the context of children’s demands at this time of year, perhaps it is worth remembering that there is a difference between what someone needs and what someone wants). Generous giving is considering the other person, and not considering ourselves. So if we give someone a present for Christmas, this should not be with any expectation of anything in return. We need to be prepared to give without expecting any kind of praise or accolade for it. (Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that our giving should be in secret, so nobody except God knows what we give).
Let us all celebrate God’s generous gift to us of Jesus Christ his only Son, our Saviour, by representing that through generously giving to others what they need. And if we give to someone (or some charity) who are unable to give anything back to us, that will be even more in keeping with the example Jesus has set us.
So, this Christmas, let us show self-less generosity to others. Let us think not of ourselves, but of others’ needs. Let us think of those with less than us, maybe those without family around them.